The summer box office has been pretty hot for horror films with Hereditary, The First Purge, and The Meg heating things up. If you live in Canada, like I do, streaming options haven’t been nearly as generous. Maybe all the platforms are waiting for the fall to unleash their best horror options, but it’s been slim pickings. Last week, Netflix finally dropped a new horror film, Devil’s Gate. Despite a recognizable cast that includes This Is Us star, Milo Ventimiglia, I haven’t heard any buzz around Devil’s Gate. So what can horror fans expect?
Special Agent Darla Francis (Amanda Schull) of the FBI arrives in the small North Dakota town of Devil’s Gate to investigate the disappearance of Maria Pritchard and her son, Jonah. Her attention is immediately fixated on Maria’s abusive and devoutly religious husband, Jackson (Milo Ventimiglia). When Special Agent Francis and Deputy Colt Salter (Shawn Ashmore) arrive on the Pritchard farm, they discover several booby traps and an agitated Jackson. Francis discovers that Jackson has someone or something locked and hidden away in the basement. Is it his wife and son or something far more sinister?
A Promising Start Descends Into Chaos
Based on the first five minutes or so of Devil’s Gate, things looked extremely promising. A man with a broken down car showing up on the Pritchard farm looking for some help seemed to set a tone reminiscent of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Unfortunately, the film’s opening moments also just happen to be the best part of Devil’s Gate. It’s all down hill from that point onward.
You can place much of the blame on the script written by Peter Aperlo and director Clay Staub. The official synopsis for Devil’s Gate promises a supernatural twist, and astute horror fans will quickly pick up on the fact that not everything is what it seems with Jackson Pritchard. Nonetheless, Special Agent Francis’ basement discovery sends the entire movie veering off into an increasingly gonzo direction. It’s not so much that the concept itself is bad or inherently stupid. Viewers familiar with the Christopher Walken film, The Prophecy, or the more recently released, Legion, will see some parallels. Staub’s execution of the idea, however, is an absolute mess. Things only get worse once Devil’s Gate hits its final act.
Staub Shows Some Promise as a Filmmaker
Not everything about Devil’s Gate is a waste. As a filmmaker, director Clay Staub shows a lot of promise behind the camera. The cinematography in is actually quite stunning in Devil’s Gate. There are some truly beautiful camera shots across the movie. Staub shows some innovation with camera angles and lighting in different scenes. While Devil’s Gate likely had a smaller budget, it never looks or feels like a cheap effort. Even the creature effects are handled quite well, though the concepts seem better-suited for a different movie. If given a better story and script, Staub could likely deliver a strong genre outing.
Of Miscasting and Broad Performances
Devil’s Gate is further hindered by its performance. As great as he is in This Is Us, Milo Ventimiglia’s scenery-chewing performance as Jackson Pritchard is more distracting than either compelling or sinister. Whether it’s the strained accent or the nonsensical religious dialogue, Ventimiglia’s goes a little too over-the-top, nearly going ‘Full Cage‘. to be fair, the blame doesn’t lie entirely at Ventimiglia’s feet. Aperlo and Staub’s screenplay doesn’t really call for much more than the typical ‘religious crazy’ seen in a dozen or so horror films.
As great as he is in This Is Us, Milo Ventimiglia’s scenery-chewing performance as Jackson Pritchard is more distracting than either compelling or sinister.
Both Amanda Schull and Shawn Ashmore are woefully miscast and look lost throughout most of Devil’s Gate. From the moment she appears on screen, Schull looks like she’s out of her depth. Most of her performance either feels flat or exaggerated. Neither Schull nor Ashmore convince as law enforcement officers. Star Trek fans may get excited when they see Jonathan Frake’s name in the cast listing, but I would caution against getting one’s hopes up. Frake’s role in Devil’s Gate basically amounts to a glorified cameo.
The Devil’s Gate Wastes A Great Start
The Canadian Netlifx hasn’t had much new or exciting for horror fans this summer. Unfortunately, the recent availability of Devil’s Gate isn’t going to do much to improve the current prospects. It’s pretty clear why this odd horror film didn’t get much (if any) of a theatrical release. A promising start is quickly squandered with a bizarrely nonsensical story and weak performances across the board.
THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: C